parentsADF International reports –  On the International Day of Families, ADF International submitted a friend of the court brief highlighting the strong protections which exist in international law for parental rights. It was submitted as part of a review of a new Social Services Act at the Constitutional Court of Bulgaria. The Act contains provisions which could marginalize the role of parents and allow unjustified and disproportionate interventions by the state in family life. Some of these provisions are similar to laws in Norway, which have been widely criticized for eroding parental rights. Norway’s actions have resulted in a number of cases at the European Court of Human Rights.

“Children deserve the loving care and protection of their parents. International law is clear that parents have the responsibility for raising children. The state should not interfere with those relationships unless there is clear evidence of a real risk of serious harm. Bulgaria must ensure any new law respects the rights of parents,” said Lidia Rieder, Legal Officer for ADF International and one of the authors of the brief.

Parental rights in Europe

Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights enshrines the right to private and family life. Along with Article 2 of Protocol 1, it protects the right of parents to direct the upbringing of their children. In the rare cases in which the authorities have grounds to intervene, it should be done with the ultimate aim of family reunification.

In many ways the new law emulates the “Norwegian model” which has been widely criticized and subject to review by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Prompted by the case of the Bodnariu family, a 2018 report into the practices of the Norwegian child welfare agency, Barnevernet, raised serious concerns. For example, it showed a high frequency of “emergency” interventions by the agency. The reasoning behind these interventions were of particular concern, as well as the exceptionally short visitation times usually granted.

“Children are born to parents, not governments. Removing a child should always be the very last resort. Even if this is truly necessary, family reunification should remain a central aim. The investigation into Norway demonstrated that child protection agencies can cause long-term damage to families and undermine the prior right that parents have to raise their children. Bulgaria should be wary of going in a similar direction,” said Robert Clarke, Deputy Director of ADF International.

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